For the eighth consecutive year, students in the greater Sarasota community have the opportunity to tackle books in exchange for baseball tickets.
You don’t have to know baseball to understand that you’re out after three strikes. But for students in Sarasota County, if you read three books, you’re in.
In for a spring training game, that is.
For the last eight years, the Sarasota County Public Library system has teamed up with the Baltimore Orioles for the Big League Reader program, which provides incentives for students to read more in February and March.
By registering at any Sarasota County library and reading three or more books, participants win a free ticket to the Orioles’ spring training game at 1:05 p.m. March 24 at Ed Smith Stadium against Pittsburgh.
Readers receive a scorecard to get stamped by a library worker each time they finish a book. All books must be read by March 15. Stamped scorecards are accepted at the Orioles box office until March 21. Adults can get a reduced-price companion ticket.
“The goal was certainly to engage with kids and certainly to improve their literacy and to work with the Sarasota County Library System,” Orioles Vice President David Rovine said. “We’ve been doing that since we’ve been here, so it’s really been 10 years’ worth of activity … We’re always looking at the school system and the educational system in Sarasota to see how we might engage and grow our participation.”
According to Andrea Dictor, director of Youth Services for Sarasota County libraries, baseball teams from all around the country participate in similar programs.
In doing so, libraries can easily incorporate a child’s interests.
“It’s a program that kids love,” Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources Director Sarabeth Kalajian said in a statement. “Most kids start out with the intention of earning a ticket to the game. But in the end, not only do they experience a great day at the ballpark, they learn that reading opens doors and leads to new adventures.”
The library system aims for family participation.
“We think it’s a great opportunity for any caregivers, whether it’s parents or grandparents or aunts, to inspire a love of learning,” Dictor said. “So, whether this is their first baseball game they’ve ever gone to or if they go every spring and they have season tickets, we want it to be an experience that [students] enjoy with their family.”
Every year, an average of about 200 readers register. Students who sign up also have the opportunity to enter their names into a drawing
for the chance to throw out the game’s first pitch.
“Last year’s first pitch was very exciting. You could tell in the family’s eyes that they had really never done anything like this,” Dictor said. “The father had talked about how she (the student) had practiced the pitch and she was ready to go. And you know, it’s nerve-wracking going out in front of all of those people, especially for a child of any age. And, just to see the joy on all the first pitchers is exciting … Because not only are they representing their families, but they’re representing our library system, as well.”
And making sure students feel acknowledged and rewarded for taking the time to read, Rovine said, is the Orioles’ goal in teaming up with the library system.
“What we try to do, also is try to have everybody on one particular day, so it’s Big League Reader Day,” he said. “Every student that comes gets an Orioles cap, we acknowledge them, we talk about them over the loudspeaker, and we also make sure that we sort of pan the group … It’s a very positive thing for young people we feel, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”